Everyone knows video games are big in Japan, but in recent years the question has been whether Japan’s still big in video games. “Japan is over. We're done. Our game industry is finished,” said Mega Man and Dead Rising creator Keiji Inafune at the Tokyo Game Show in 2009, and five years on there’s no doubt that the country has continued to lose the grip it once held on the gaming world. Whereas the biggest games in the PlayStation 2 era came from Japanese franchises like Final Fantasy and Resident Evil, the most recent console generation saw blockbuster development dominated by Western games like Call of Duty and Mass Effect.

“The mainstream industry in Japan is like a large tree that’s just begun to wilt. It’s still standing strong, it hasn’t collapsed just yet, but it’s not doing all that well,” Inafune told The Verge at BitSummit, a Kyoto indie-games festival in its second year. Inafune himself went independent in 2010, leaving giant developer Capcom to start his own studio called Comcept. He believes that indie games are the most exciting thing happening within the Japanese industry. “Indies have just sprouted above the ground. There’s still this monolithic large tree over the industry, but indies have popped up. Whether or not the big tree will fall, whether or not the indie scene will grow into a tree itself, I don’t know.”

BitSummit opened with a man on a stage wearing a Famicom on his head. Professor Sakamoto — a musician and artist — wore a leather jacket, black turtleneck, and futuristic helmet upon which the 8-bit console was balanced. It was perhaps the best introduction for the show and its independent spirit; for the first time since the bedroom coders of the 1980s, there’s a viable route for Japanese developers to make their own games without needing to use a major publishing house to succeed. It’s a route that was forged in the West by developers such as Minecraft-maker Mojang, but Japan needs to catch up — if the Western industry is anything to go by, indie games could be the East’s best hope for regaining its creative spark.